My son is four. He is as white as they come.
His current cartoon fixation is Handy Manny. He’s watched roughly 8 episodes and so far we’ve mostly talked about the fact that Manny and his friends can speak two languages and I try to translate for him in a more deliberate way than they do on the show. Fortunately for both of us, my Spanish covers everything Manny and his friends say.
My son thinks it’s cool that they speak two languages and has said he’d like to learn Spanish. But, you know, he’s four, so we’ll see how that goes.
It helps that he goes to a diverse school. His former best friend was from France and spoke both French and English. He moved away a few months ago and one of his other friends has now stepped into the “best friend” position. He’s Chinese American and speaks English and Mandarin. For my son, speaking two languages isn’t unusual.
He has two other friends that he plays with every day at school. One is a Chinese-American girl, the other an Iranian-American boy. There were probably a half dozen different languages being spoken at the latter’s last birthday party.
This afternoon my son diverged from his Handy Manny fixation and asked to watch something else: Doc McStuffins.
You don’t need me to go on and on about Doc McStuffins. Here’s a decent overview, although even the accolades list doesn’t do it justice. You can check out what Common Sense Media has to say, too, as they are usually pretty good about these things. Neither of those links really drives home how important Doc McStuffins is and how essential it has become.
More to the point, Doc is a black girl, just as Manny is a hispanic man. They are the main characters on their shows. They are not sidekicks, they are not punching bags. They are kind, nice, genuine problem solvers who happen to not be white.
I know that none of this is huge. I know that I can’t suddenly claim that my son will treat every one equally when he’s an adult because I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t specifically tell you what kind of impact these shows are having on him, or even the impact of the fact that he has friends who aren’t all just like him. I don’t know how any of this works.
But I know that I grew up surrounded by white people, watching cartoons about white people, and while I don’t think I am ever consciously prejudiced, I have no doubt that I am guilty of microagressions that I’m not even aware of. I also know that I spent most of my life being completely clueless about anyone who didn’t look like me and even though that’s changed over the last decade or so, I still feel like I missed out on a lot before that.
I think this is how it starts, though. I think watching cartoons with diverse characters is how it starts. Going to a school with diverse students is a start. Being raised by parents who are aware of how important this is is a start.
I think the goal of every parent is for their child to grow up to be better than they were.
In that case, this is definitely a good start.
The key is making sure that continues.